By Aurvind Lama, Co-Founder & CEO, Travelyaari (Mantis Technologies Pvt. Ltd)
Headquartered in Bengaluru, Travelyaari is an online bus booking platform which leverages technology solutions to simplify and streamline bus ticketing processes. Its real time bus ticket inventory aggregator and distributors across India provides the largest installed base of bus operators in India. The platform provides enterprise level solutions (ERP) to more than 2000 bus transporters through BusCRS.
Several movies such as ‘Bombay to Goa’ and ‘Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd’ have underlined the lure that bus travel holds for the country’s consumers. Bus reservations do not need to be booked months in advance, nor are they as heavy a burden on consumers’ pockets as airline tickets. Moreover, there are still several areas of the country which can only be reached by road, making travelling by bus the obvious and at-times only choice for travellers. These benefits over the other two major modes of travel underline why bus travel is the most preferred mode of transportation for the Indian consumer and is used by millions of travellers across the country on a regular basis for both long and short distances.
Despite its pre-eminence in the passenger travel segment and widespread acceptance amongst consumers, the industry still faces several issues which affect its efficiency and end-user appeal. One of the major concerns is the fragmented, decentralised nature of the Indian bus travel industry. Most booking agencies and transporters operate on a smaller, more regional scale and do not have a pan-India presence. Moreover, as they depend upon tedious manual bookkeeping systems to keep a track of bookings and reservations and deal chiefly in cash, traditional process of making bus reservations are challenging, time-consuming, unreliable and not very user-friendly.
The ongoing digital revolution, however, has helped the industry evolve significantly over the past few years. The emergence and subsequent prevalence of the Internet and availability of affordable smartphones and tablets has played its part in kick-starting a paradigmatic shift in the way we plan travel, be it for work or pleasure. The increased usage of credit/debit cards, net banking services and digital wallets has also led to greater payments convenience for travellers by reducing their dependence on cash. E-reservations make the entire process of ticketing simple, streamlined and transparent. The customer is able to acquire a confirmed seat without having to indulge in double booking and can quickly check the details through a smartphone or a laptop. Booking platforms are being able to make reservations smoother through digitising the inventories of bus operators and by bundling in customer benefits such as family plans, insurance and discounts.
At the moment, the e-ticketing or ‘m-ticketing’ segment is a very small part of the overall bus ticketing industry with estimates of market share ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent. The state-run bus travel market has less than 5 percent online penetration, despite having an annual turnover which runs into hundreds of crores of rupees.. Low internet penetration in tier-2 and tier-3 geographies and the long standing absence of a consolidated, comprehensive online platform that connects service providers and consumers have also played a major role in hampering the adoption rate of online services in the segment so far.
Rise in levels of urbanisation and increasing migration to cities for jobs or higher studies is steadily changing this situation, as it is a greater preference for technology-based solutions by industry players to enhance their service delivery and improve their end-user offerings. The government has also played an active part through investments in road and highway infrastructure which have improved connectivity and reduced travel time. The innovations in quality and types of buses have also led to increased comfort and safety, with operators providing amenities such as entertainment systems and Wi-Fi. To put it in other words, technology is poised to change the bus travel experience. Customers are already being given the option of tracking their bus in real-time and sharing the location information with friends by using the on-board GPS devices.
Favourable demographics and the increasing acceptability of secure online payment mechanisms are other major drivers of change. The bus travel market is bound to grow at an accelerated pace and must be modernised through e-commerce. The way forward is to provide users with reliable services and end-to-end ticketing solutions. There is an urgent need within the industry to build a booking model that is collaborative and empowers all stakeholders, be it bus operators, OTAs, agents or customers. A model with sustainable unit economics and scalability will help many small service providers gain access to computerisation and a strong travel ecosystem.
There is clearly enormous potential for a centralised platform that makes booking simpler and faster. The inter-city bus ticketing market in the organised sector is worth an astonishing Rs 20,000 crore, comprising both State Transport Undertakings (STUs) as well as private bus operators, which provide service to almost 15 lakh travellers on a daily basis. The total bus travel market, consisting of both organised and unorganised segments, is worth over Rs 61,000 crore, with the private bus market being estimated at Rs 17,000 crore. It is expected that online penetration in this sector will grow to 40 percent by 2018, but only if dynamic startups continue to lead the change. The need of the hour is for industry experts to combine management skills, business knowledge and technological acumen to provide solutions that allow the industry to meet travellers’ needs.